Fear: Our National Relgion

I found this essay from Grateful Dead lyricist and EFF Founder John Perry Barlow 15 or 20 years ago as I wandered around the loosely connected, barely organized morass of pages that was the internet of the mid 90s[1].

One section in particular was instantly memorized – A few lines that I now repeat in my brain on a nearly daily basis:

So we have erected a glowing altar in the center of our lives that feeds on our terror, and Fear has become our national religion.

Barlow was talking about TV, but I wonder how much of this fear now lives in our pockets and in our feeds.

Now that we’ve built and moved entire sections of our lives to the social web, the optimism that those of us on the early web shared seems beautifully simplistic – something somewhat akin to the feelings Timothy Leary and Ram Dass had when they believed LSD would inadvertantly lead to world peace. Then the governments and corporations of the world got involved.

But Barlow had already heard that song and knew too much to write these words from naievite.

Today, I’m not sure if we’ve lived up to Barlow’s lofty expectations but I do see light.

Mark Zuckerberg’s posts about the racial divide in incarceration or his sharing the personal trials he has shared with his wife Pricila in trying to start a family rekindle my hopes.

Not just that the most powerful person on the internet writes posts that unite us in our shared humanity, but that the person with the most informed perspective on where things are going seems to personally believe in this vision too.

Barlow again:

Direct communication should breed understanding and tolerance. We may begin to understand that these distant and sometimes alien creatures are real people whose rights are directly connected to our own.

Sometimes it seems like cyberspace is moving in both directions – both a ray of hope and an alter of fear.

Even if its a bit niave, I know which side I hope wins.

Read the full text of Barlow’s essay here.


[1] – I was just using the tool as it was intended, to browse. The net used to be less of a firehose and more of a saunter through different neighborhoods of a city.


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